graphic design

Merging Careers: Art & Science, hand-in-hand?


A blogger I follow published an article yesterday mentioning how July is half over already and its been a month since he last posted anything. I realized I haven’t published a new article since May! Well, if you’re interested, I’d like to explain why:

About a year to a year and a half ago I was living in an apartment with my boyfriend and another roommate. I was working crappy jobs, spending not nearly enough time on freelance work, and doing almost no creative projects just for myself. I was struggling with the idea of continuing on my path of shitty jobs to pay the bills, and finding time to pursue my freelance career as an artist, designer, and illustrator.

Let me backtrack to about seven years ago: I was graduating from high school in upstate New York — legit upstate, not just 20 miles north of the city, but I digress — I was top of my class and hating almost every minute of it (mostly dreading the idea of having to give a speech, plus other bs that was going on with the administration). I was the valedictorian and by the end of the school year, I had no intentions of going to college. As you can probably deduce, my focus in high school was fine art so, I did consider art school, but ultimately chose not to go for a myriad of reasons:

  1. I had my older brother, TJ, as an example to follow (sorry brotato, but you were the guinea pig). He went to a school in Boston for music technology and dropped out after a year because it wasn’t until after he was already down the rabbit hole, that he realized he hated it. One year. Over $30,000 in debt. No thanks.
  2. I already had a job that allowed me to explore my creativity in fashion design, graphic design, web design, embroidery, modeling, writing, photography, illustration, and plenty other creative outlets. I was basically going to school and getting paid for it.
  3. I wasn’t 100% certain it was worth it to get a degree in fine art since I was cocky and let myself believe that I was already really good and wouldn’t learn anything.
  4. I felt like I had something to prove and wanted to show people that I could take the “hard road” to success and succeed without a degree.
  5. I didn’t think the degree was worth the financial burden.
  6. I didn’t want to conform to what I considered society’s standard: to follow along with the crowd as one of The Man’s little marionettes, and being forced into a life as a puppet getting walked through the educational system to fetch my piece of paper that would, down the line, mean something to employers.
  7. I was bitter.

There were probably more reasons, but the gist of it is that I didn’t want to be rushed to a decision, and the more that people tell me I have to do something, the less I want to do it. Plus, I’m a thinker, a planner, a worrier, and probably, nay definitely, a little bit of a procrastinator. I wanted time to think about what I really want to spend the rest of my life doing and to this day, I still feel like 18, for most people, is too young to know the answer to such an important question.

At the same time, I reflect and find hypocrisy in my opinions (this is going to be a tangent, so bear with me). I hate the notion that we have to have very specific careers and learn very specific skills to do a job that contributes to a larger entity. People aren’t as well rounded as they used to be and seriously lack a lot of basic skills they should know, as humans, in order to survive. People don’t even know how to plant and garden for shit’s sake! If grocery stores just vanished, I can’t imagine how many people would just starve because they can’t sustain themselves. Anyway, the hypocrisy lies within my mindset of wanting to find that one thing I want to do for the rest of my life: If I want to do one thing, isn’t that limiting, and narrowing my path to well-roundedness? I’d like to think not since I intend to pursue art as well as a science and I have other hobbies too, but I kind of feel a little hypocritical.

So, fast forward to last year. I had a conversation with Ryan (my then boyfriend, now fiancé), about my career:job:life angst. He told me he understands my reasoning behind wanting to thoroughly consider careers before jumping into school and wasting my time and money; he too went into the work force right out of high school. He then told me that eventually I need to get off my ass and make a decision because I can’t sit around thinking about it forever.

At first, I was a little insulted, but it was very sound, logical advice and it really kicked me into high gear over the past year. Sometimes I just need a boot to the ass to get motivated.

While pondering careers, I was hired to do a sketch of a woman based only off of verbal descriptions, like forensic sketch artists do, and it got me thinking about how I’d like to maybe become a sketch artist for law enforcement. After some research, I discovered that job is primarily, though not always, left to someone within the force who already has artistic skills due to the liabilities involved in having a civilian interacting with witnesses and victims as well as the financial burden of hiring an independent contractor.

With that in mind, I considered what areas of police work I could see myself being involved in so I could get my foot in the door to becoming a sketch artist. I had been interested in forensics for a long time and decided to see what I’d be looking at career-wise, locally. I signed up for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Academy – a two month long class that walks citizens through various areas of the sheriff’s office, both lecture based and hands-on – and part of it involves a presentation by someone within the forensics department.

I very quickly learned that the jobs in my area are competitive and not very interesting: It would most likely involve finger print analysis or just collecting evidence. It’s possible other agencies nearby might have more interesting jobs, but after some consideration, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle the grotesque nature of the job. Aaaand just like that, two potential careers went out the windowIMG_5195.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I watched a few documentaries about nutrition, health, and obesity in America and it got me thinking about how much common sense people seem to lack in regards to eating right, and many peoples’ hypocrisy when it comes to not taking care of themselves then expecting someone else to pay their health sickcare bills. I thought back to when I was researching primary care physicians when I first moved to Oregon four years ago and how I ended up choosing a naturopath. What attracted me to my naturopath was her thorough examination into my health history and her genuine caring and interest in my health. Also, the fact that she is conscientious of my preferences and opinions of how I want to get healthier and doesn’t just prescribe pills right off the bat to cure everything (though she can if need be).IMG_2094

It clicked for me that nutrition is something I feel passionate about and enough so that I can definitively see myself making a career out of it. More IMG_3058-001research ensued and to make this long story a little shorter, I’ll just say that my goal is to become a Registered Dietitian and I will be attending Oregon State University in the Fall (finances and vehicle longevity permitting).

I still intend to pursue my art, and in an ideal world I will be able to combine the two in some way. I have ideas, I just need to keep chugging along, stop procrastinating, and just. Get. It. Done.

I’m working on — by working on, I mean it’s churning in my head — a series of phrases to help keep me focused and motivate me, that I want to turn into a series of illustrations or t-shirts or both. You can expect a transitional mish-mash in my blog topics that incorporate either or both art and nutrition and I hope you find all topics interesting and helpful.

One final note! An amazing coincidence happened this past year that I hope will help transition and merge my artistic career with a health and wellness career and I can’t wait to talk about it, but I have to wait until I get the go-ahead to do so. Yeah, that explains nothing. . . just stay tuned! It’s exciting!

Embroidery: a medium often overlooked by artists

Like most artists, I sprouted my skills and talents early in life at home, honed them in school, and explored them out in the world. I’ve worked with a lot of media both traditional and. . . not so traditional; from oil paint to plaster, from water balloons to charcoal straight from the fireplace. I rarely say “no” to trying a new medium and although I don’t expect every artist to be as gun-ho about trying everything they can get their hands on, there is one medium I’ve worked with that I feel shouldn’t be overlooked by artists, especially graphic designers. That medium is embroidery, or “painting with thread” if I may.

Contrary to a lot of logo designers and graphic artists I have spent a lot of time working in embroidery shops learning the ins and outs of embroidery; from digitizing to mass machine running. I spent several years creating meticulous custom designs (my most notable piece being the rendition of Gram Parson’s Nudie Suit) and a year working in a high-production facility pumping out as many as 500 garments in a day by myself. It’s this combination that has taught me how to create a truly unique piece of embroidered art, and how to recognize a well-digitized design.

What IS Embroidery? And what the HECK is digitizing?

Embroidery is a type of decoration that, today, can be done using computerized embroidery machines to stitch on a fabric surface with a needle and thread and can be done using a wide variety of thread colors. Modern machine embroidery involves digitizing the design first in order for the machines to know what to do. (They’re not self aware yet!)

Back in the days before machine embroidery existed, and hand embroidery was the method used, people followed patterns or made up the design themselves. Machine embroidery is kind of like following a pattern, but the pattern has to be created and that’s where digitizing comes in. The digitizer creates shapes in various colors to make up the design/logo and essentially programs each and every stitch that goes into a design because the machine needs to know what to do and what sequence to do it in. Digitizing is an often tedious task and involves a lot of knowledge of not only the digitizing software, but the variations to expect and plan for when working on different types of fabric (stitching on a knit fabric is far different from stitching on a woven fabric) and not to mention the machine tensions, speeds, hooping specs. . . the list goes on.

Embroidery and digitizing are their own unique species from graphic design, but embroidered items are very common marketing and design tools. People don’t give it enough consideration and I think that’s mostly because they don’t know enough about the process. I don’t think everyone should go out and learn all there is to know about it, but as a graphic designer it’s important to know some basics. I believe it’ll make you all the more well-rounded in your knowledge and insight into your clients’ potential needs.

Out of Retirement!

T-shirt design by Sara Kerr, Modeled by Sara Kerr and Photo by Josh Miller

With the launch of my improved art and design portfolio website coming up in a few months, I’ve been taking photos of various pieces of art I want to display. However, not all of it is on paper or canvas; I also do graphic design and t-shirt logos, but those are boring if I just post the graphic. I feel the visual appeal of a graphic design is much more eye-catching when you see it in it’s intended context and on the product it’s meant for. So, I decided to photograph some of the graphic t-shirts I designed as well as model the shirts myself since I have experience as an apparel model. The problem with this of course, is I then need someone else to do the photography.

“Slinky” by Josh Miller

No worries though, because I already had someone in mind. Josh Miller is a budding new photographer and the majority of his photography experience has been with landscapes and various scenery [see right example]. More recently though, he has expressed interest in portrait photography. We both saw this as a great opportunity for him to gain experience and for me to get back into practice with modeling [in addition to getting some great shots for my website].

T-shirt design by Sara Kerr, Modeled by Sara Kerr and Photo by Josh Miller
Josh didn’t have anywhere specific he wanted to do the shoot, and let me pick a location. I had a spot in mind I’ve been wanting to do a photo shoot at ever since I moved to Portland…Waterfront Park. I was only looking for some interesting landscapes to use as backgrounds and I thought the bridges, boats and water would be suitable for a simple t-shirt.

This photo shoot made me realize exactly how long it’s been since I last modeled [more than a year…hence the title]. Firstly, I was having a TERRIBLE hair day and had to go with a messy bun, but additionally I felt really awkward posing…

…it was like sitting down to a fancy dinner with 2 dozen utensils on either side of my plate and no idea of what to do first, resulting in me hovering my hands around awkwardly and indecisively about what to do while at the same time trying not look like I don’t know what I’m doing…

So, I’m a bit rusty, but overall the shoot went well. Josh was great, I enjoyed shooting with him and we got some excellent shots. More of them would have been usable if only my hair had behaved. Oh Well! More shoots with different t-shirts [and a better hairdo] to come!

T-shirt design by Sara Kerr, Modeled by Sara Kerr and Photo by Josh Miller

Art Projects Potpourri!

It seems like ages since I last blogged! Well, maybe not ages, but it has been about 4 months. Much too long! I’ll just have to summarize all the latest Kerrminator projects to catch you up!

Gifts Galore!

Wind chime made of metal disks, copper pipes, hemp, and leather.As much as I’d like to make all my gifts for everyone, I just don’t have the time. However, I do try to make something for at least a couple people for either birthdays or Christmas. I had been planning on making some sort of wind chime using some metal disks I purchased from Doyle Hardware in Utica, NY before it closed a few years ago. They were practically giving stuff away to clear out the store and my mom and I scoured the back rooms for interesting things to use in art projects. Needless to say, we came across tons of interesting metal bits and bobs, but that’s a hole other story entirely.

The point is, I finally made a wind chime with my brother in mind. He records a lot of random sounds to create music with and each year I find it simpler to make him a gift. So far I’ve made him a ceramic ocarina, gave him a collection of weird sounds, made woven fabric canvases that make an interesting drum sound when wet and now the wind chime. I still have no idea what the metal disks are actually for, but I think they got put to good use and I still have plenty more to make another.

Ryan Noel logoIn addition to my brother’s gift, I also made my ‘manfriend’ a gift for Christmas in the form of a website. Ryan is an aspiring actor and had mentioned previously that it would be nice to have his own website. So, I created a site for him to display his acting resume, past and current head shots, modeling portfolio, and other miscellaneous skills. You can view his acting website,, to have a look at his skills and [obviously] see the site I designed. My web building skills are improving as we speak, and I’d like to eventually update his to be more modern and fresh, but it’ll do for now.

Colored pencil portrait of three women.A few other gifts I’ve made in the past year include a frame and custom matting for Ryan’s most current head-shot, a portrait of a bald eagle for my dad and a portrait of three friends for their birthdays. The bald eagle portrait is actually an interesting piece because I painted it on a cross section of a tree my dad cut down at the Bronx Zoo over 30 years ago. I don’t have a photo of it yet, but I’ll update this post once I get one.

In my last blog post I mentioned joining a site called I got one project through them so far, which is more than I expected since I was given a lead shortly after joining. A woman contacted me wanting a memorial pet portrait of a dog named Missie. Missie had died and the woman ordering the drawing was having it made for a friend of hers who the dog belonged to. I posted a few updates of the drawing on my facebook page as I was working on it. Friend me on facebook and be in touch when I have updates on new art projects and blog posts!


Ryan Noel wearing P.A.N.T.S. t-shirt printed with pants logo designed by Sara Kerr.P.A.N.T.S. is an acronym for People Acting Not Too Seriously. P.A.N.T.S. is the improv comedy group of Portland Community College and Ryan, is a member of the group. “What does this have to do with anything,” you ask? Well, I’ll tell you! I have been practicing my stage photography at their performances and recording clips occasionally so that the members can watch it to improve themselves as well as for them to post on their facebook page to attract potential patrons. In addition to the photography I do for the group I also created a logo for them which they use on their handbills and had printed on t-shirts.

Art For Sale!

Pastel drawing of a man playing the piano by Sara Kerr.It’s a little disappointing to have art sitting around, not being seen by people. Ideally, I would like to have my art in galleries, but personally I don’t feel that I have many pieces worth displaying to the general public. However, there are some pieces that I’m especially proud of.

It wasn’t until the end of my senior year and about a year after graduation that I started to create some really great works. I have to admit though, not having a ‘destination’ for a piece makes me rather unmotivated. What I mean is, when I was in high school I was creating not only for grades, but local competitions. Now it seems like I only get really involved in a piece if it’s FOR someone else or it’s a commission. I haven’t created something entirely for myself in a long time. I want to keep growing as an artist, but motivation is key.

Hand crafted clay whistle by Sara Kerr.One of those drawings I did [after high school] was a commissioned colored pencil drawing of four Harley Davidson Motorcycles which I have featured on my website. I have giclee prints of the motorcycle drawing available for purchase. [I had them up on ebay for a while, but you can contact me directly if you’re interested.]

In addition to the motorcycle prints, I also have several dozen hand crafted ceramic whistles looking for homes. I made them a few years ago and just haven’t done much with them. My intentions were to sell them at craft fairs, but I simply haven’t had the time. Each is different in size, pitch and glazing and you can contact me directly to purchase one.

So, that pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing the last few months. 🙂


I’m on my third submission on, with my first two submissions being unsuccessful. I certainly hope I don’t suck that bad so, I think I’ll tell myself the reason for my lack of success with these ‘creative invites’ is that I have an insufficient quantity of friends that can vote for me.

At any rate, I’m going to keep submitting to these things while I have the time even if I never win. One of the worst things an artist can do is stagnate and that’s something I tend to do when I don’t have something to work on. Of course it helps when there are deadlines, people relying on me finishing the project and monetary incentives.

My latest submission is a movie poster design for Tiffany Shlain’s latest documentary called Connected. You can check out the site to read a detailed explanation, but it’s a documentary and this is the poster idea I submitted.

Sara Kerr's poster idea submission on Talenthouse for Tiffany Shlain's documentary, Connected.

Voting starts in about 8 days and I’m hoping this time I can get into the finals. If you like my design, please go to my submission page and vote for me! If you are going to forget in 8 days, click on the “support” button and you’ll be reminded to vote.

More submissions to come! 🙂